This book may sound like it’s going to be about high fashion, but it’s actually about Nazism, satanism, incest and murder. Françoise Dior decided that her uncle Christian had been killed in a Jewish plot in 1957, so she joined a Nazi movement in France before moving to London to work for the cause over here. Later, she got more interested in the ‘spiritual side of Nazism’, which developed into a fascination with Satan. A sexual relationship with her teenage daughter Christiane eventually turned sour and when Françoise could no longer put up with her, she tricked Christiane into committing suicide.
It’s all told in a cheerful, chatty way by Terry Cooper, who was Françoise’s lover for many years. He proudly charts his rise from ordinary Dagenham schoolboy to international adventurer. Cooper’s first great glory was when he was 11: ‘If my secondary education was of a secondary nature, my sexual education can only be called a great success.’ He had an affair with Old Mother Acid, a neighbour who had dark hair growing all over her body. She was also known as ‘You’. because her husband never called her anything else.
Although she had no breasts, I had discovered ‘You’ was exotic and beautiful; in my eyes she no longer resembled a spider… She was a naturally born mistress in the art of love.
After these halcyon days, Cooper took to posting swastikas on lampposts. He doesn’t seem to have been passionate about Nazism; in 1965, he says, the swastika represented excitement and adventure more than anything else. He’s unimpressed by the senior Nazis he comes across, reserving special disdain for Hitler’s priestess Devi Mukherji Savitri, who looks and smells like a gypsy and whose top secret Nazi plots never seem to come to anything.
He begins an affair with Françoise and after various run-ins with the law and other adventures they settle down in Normandy with nine Alsatians. Here Cooper can pursue his real passion: mysticism and magical telluric forces. He writes a book but isn’t surprised when no one wants to publish it: ‘the book had become so complicated that, to anyone who was not well versed in the Hermetic art, it would be totally meaningless.’ He recognises that Françoise is not a spiritual person, but he’s happy to humour her as she applies herself to finding the hidden secrets of the world.
Christiane, who has been brought up by her grandmother, turns up when she’s 16 and Françoise starts sleeping with her. Cooper loathes her and swears vengeance for the misery she puts him through when she comes to stay. The joy of reunion doesn’t last, and when Françoise decides Christiane must die, Cooper comments, ‘I really hated Christiane but I thought the idea was somewhat extreme.’ Nevertheless, he amiably goes along with the idea and helps to formulate a plan.
Relying on Christiane’s unfathomable stupidity, her slavish, unquestioning devotion to her mother, and the fact that she was totally incapable of thinking for herself, Françoise counted on enmeshing the girl into a sect-like indoctrination. She fixed a day when the moon was semi-sextile to Mercury, ‘which was good enough reason considering her intelligence’, and fitted up a gallows so Christiane could hang herself. The plan worked.
The whole story is told entirely without introspection or regret. Cooper just relishes his own tale. It’s a fireside chat, with extra pieces of wisdom thrown in along the way: all surgeons in France are failed vets; there’s still officially a state of war between Germany and the Allies. Cooper is proud of his ‘clandestine life of adventure’ and occasionally seems to wish he could regale his readers with still more revelations, if they wouldn’t land him in prison. He’s an absolute nutter and probably ought not to be encouraged, but it’s hard not to be entertained by the eye-popping nerve of him combined with the casual extra madnesses –– the nine Alsatians, telluric forces, an irritating Devil’s Advocate who comes to stay on an undercover papal mission –– which punctuate every chapter.